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Die Walküre

Richard Wagner
Keith Warner's new production of The Ring
Conducted by Antonio Pappano Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
(2005)

Bryn Terfel

Whatever Wolfgang Wagner thinks of the Royal Opera's latest interpretation of The Ring, he is keeping his counsel.

Herr Wagner, who at 86 still holds the family reins of the Bayreuth Festival created by his Grandfather Richard, watched from the eighth row of the stalls as Die Walküre, current chapter of director Keith Warner's new concept was unveiled at Covent Garden on Saturday. His inscrutable countenance might have been that of one spending just another day at the office.

"You see," the man himself told me during an interval encounter in the Floral Hall, "I don't believe in criticising the work of colleagues. And in any case I would not make instant judgement about any production. That is your job."

And, since this conversation took place immediately prior to curtain up on Act 3, it is quite possible that Herr Wagner's position could have changed by the finale, such is the power of the closing scene with Bryn Terfel fairly tears at all the heartstrings as his emotional Wotan and appears so tortured he barely manages to complete the scripted banishment of beloved daughter Brünhilde.

Since I may not take refuge in Wagnerian diplomacy, it is to be said Warner's new Walküre is tragedy rather than triumph. There is even some dissent at the curtain, clarified by its intensification on the appearance on stage of Warner and his team. This is not to my taste when disapproval can be far more eloquently expressed in silent departure!

My own reservations surround the staging of this Ring. Following an unconvincing Rheingold with riverbed reminiscent of pleasure beach, the stage for Die Walküre appears to resemble the office after a burglary. There may be no requirement, to my knowledge, for beauty and symmetry in settings, least of all for the Ring. Yet there surely has to be more reason than I can find for this mess.

Here I should confess that, in seeking to relate my critical eye to a wider cross section of audience, I watched this performance from the lofty slips. While affording excellent prospect of the RO's (to me) strange orchestra configuration, it does little for understanding the designer's art. Not that life in the best seats has done much for that either!

If there is ever a case for enjoying Wagner's music theatre in recline with eyes closed, this may be it. For while such posture may emphasise a tendency to languid lyricism in Antonio Pappano's conducting, the combination of Royal Opera Orchestra and Wagner score is as usual beguiling.

There is a song school quality about tenor Jorma Silvastri's Siegmund that doesn't quite blend with Katarina Dalayman's splendidly energetic Sieglinde and Stephen Milling's rugged Hunding. It takes the stark brilliance of Rosalind Plowright's Fricka to lift the action into something like the urgency the composer must have wanted.

Lisa Gasteen's powerful Brünhilde is rightly popular though a shade brittle in full voice. Nevertheless, her tone in the moving closing scene is irresistible.

Bryn Terfel continues to delight in his first Wotan. If anything more majestic here than in Rheingold, if only because Walküre allows him so to be. For many, this must be the ideal Wotan, physically powerful though restrained, almost urbane while elegantly sung to say the least. If there is more to come then it can only be a still greater sense of vocal authority -which might yet be in reserve for the ultimate figure of Twilight!

With so much admire in this production, reservations can seem carping until one remembers that anyone who takes on Wagner's Ring deserves what they get, however that transpires.

"Die Walküre" can be seen on March 9th (5 pm), 12th (4 pm), 15th (5 pm), 19th (5 pm), 22nd (5 pm) and 28th (4 pm).

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole